We must keep National but reduce the field to make it safer

Bill Esdaile
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THERE is no getting away from the fact that Saturday’s Grand National left a bad taste in the mouth. I left Aintree racecourse for a second year running with a hollow feeling inside after another two horses lost their lives in the most famous race of them all.

Synchronised, one of the stricken pair, had enjoyed a famous victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup less than a month earlier and I suppose his loss made the race that much more unsatisfactory.

To lose any horse is a tragedy; to lose one so famous on the biggest stage makes even racing’s most ardent supporters ask questions.

The Grand National is an institution, but one which is sadly becoming harder to justify in its current format.

But let’s get one thing straight: I haven’t turned into an “anti” overnight and would rather see Christmas banned. It’s just that I have come to terms with the fact that the minor safety changes made over the last 12 months have made little to no difference and it may now be time for more drastic measures. In metaphorical terms, the antibiotics haven’t worked, and racing must look at possible surgery.

I walked the course before the race at the weekend and it was visible that the fences had been lowered and some of the uneven landing areas levelled.

Ironically, racing’s attempts to make the race safer have in fact made it more dangerous. Jockeys are now prepared to go that yard quicker in the knowledge that the fences pose less of a risk.

The safety measures imposed on Becher’s Brook, the most dangerous fence of them all, have made the obstacle more hazardous.

Jockeys are now aggressively angling to tackle the fence on the inside, when previously they just looked for space in an attempt to negotiate it safely.

Racing will correctly take its time and make no knee-jerk, emotionally driven decisions. However, I believe the key is to reduce the field to a maximum of 30, from the current 40. It would allow the runners more chance to space out, giving pilots, and more importantly their mounts, a better view of the obstacles and a chance to avoid other fallers.

It wouldn’t alter a British institution, but would make it that much safer.

Bill Esdaile is City A.M.’s racing expert. You can follow him and join the debate on Twitter @BillEsdaile